Tick the Box for Buddhism

Tick the Box for Buddhism

Please join our campaign 'Tick the Box for Buddhism'. You can print off our campaign poster to display in your organisation or forward to friends here (or as separate sides - side 1 and side 2). There's a sample piece for your newsletter here and a general introduction to the campaign here.

What's it all about? The next census, in March 2011, will  include a voluntary question about religious affiliation. This was controversial in the last census in 2001 because many felt that it was an invasion of privacy and that the information might be abused. Several hundred thousand Jedi Knights demonstrated their opposition by coming out as a new religion.

Those worried about how the religious affiliation figures might be used were right to be concerned. They have  been used to determine relative levels of representation, access, and funding  made available through government, charities and public organisations to faith groups.

Levels of recognitions have been adjusted according to the relative proportion of the ‘vote’ a faith received on the census. Based upon the last census figures the lion’s share of influence has been taken by the large and established religions.

Although the census figures are used as though they accurately represent religious affiliation in the UK, they are misleading. Firstly, the census question is a leading one and asks ‘What is your religion’ rather than asking alternatives such as:

‘Do you belong to a religion, if so which?’, or 'Which faith or religions do you most support?'

The choices available only list the six official major faiths – Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh faiths, (and ‘none’ and ‘other’) - and they do not distinguish between cultural, lukewarm and serious religious practitioners.

The question favours cultural affiliation to religion (the feeling that one has the same religion as one’s parents or ethnic group even if one does not practice) rather than those who actively practice a faith.

Secondly, evidence suggests that many who are sympathetic to Buddhism, and who may practice mindfulness and meditation, or who are inspired by or respect its teachings, did not indicate that they were Buddhists on the 2001 census. Western Buddhists in particular are uncomfortable with adopting labels, or with feeling forced to express a religious identity.

Because of these problems with the census question on religious affiiliation, we would prefer that it was not included and that other more precise and frequent surveys were used to determine how religion influences British citizens.

However, since the question is to remain  to guide government policy for the next ten years then many of us would like to see more accurate figures for Buddhism. Buddhism  brings a moderating and common-sense influence to religious issues which is sorely needed.  And it is the only non-theistic faith ( one which does not worry about 'God')  amongst the major faiths. Based upon the levels of interest shown in Buddhist practices, mindfulness, retreats, information and books, we think it is reasonable to anticipate that up to half a million citizens could 'tick the box' for Buddhism in the next census if they realised the importance of doing this.

If this were the case  we would  expect Buddhism and its values to be more visible and to exert more influence.  And perhaps most importantly, greater support for Buddhism would demonstrate public demand for religiously inspired behaviour that UK citizens admire and want to encourage – behaviour based on compassion, generosity, tolerance, non-violence, humility, rational discourse, and proven meditation and spiritual teachings.

With greater support for Buddhism we would also expect that mindfulness and other meditation practices which are proving very helpful for general well-being, would be more widely taught  in schools and that the religious curricula might give more emphasis to the human values and behaviour that we share in common and admire - compassion, kindness, generosity, wisdom and meditation and rational inquiry - rather than religious doctrine that tends to be divisive.

So, if you have been inspired by, or benefited from, Buddhism through meditation, mindfulness practice, or attendance at a Buddhist group or retreat, please indicate your support by ticking the Buddhist box on the 2011 census. And we want to encourage all Buddhists to ask their friends, in Buddhist temples, monasteries and mindfulness centres,  and other sympathetic groups, and in internet social networking sites and forums, to do the same.

In addition to these problems with the religious question, there was also  a low return rate at the last census from Asian and other ethnic groups in the UK. We encourage all Buddhists from an Asian background to make sure they complete the Census. The census figures will be used to allocate budgets for health, education, transport and social welfare to local neighbourhoods. If census forms are not returned for an area then insufficient services will be provided.

Given the way the census figures for religion will be used we think it better to see the question as asking 'What faith do you most support?' and to see this as your opportunity to vote.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the Census? How do I fill it in?

The Census is held once every ten years. In the UK you will be sent Census forms in March 2011 for completion ideally on 27th March. Everyone should complete the Census, since Government policy and funding allocation is greatly influenced by the data. Census returns are anonymous for 100 years and the data is not passed on to tax or immigration or other government departments, so it is safe to complete the Census.

I am not sure if I qualify as a Buddhist. I do meditate and respect its teachings but was christened as a child.

If you practice Buddhism in any way: through meditation, mindfulness practice, or chanting,  or enjoy Buddhist books and teachings, then it is perfectly appropriate to tick the Buddhist box. Many of those who tick the boxes for the other faiths do not practice at all, but simply fall in line with family tradition or habit. So you may actually be more genuine in your choice of Buddhism than many of those who ticked boxes for other faiths.

I don’t think that Buddhism is a religion – it is a philosophy or way of life – shouldn’t I just refuse to answer it at all?

Well, you at liberty to do this. However, even though there has always been a debate about just what a religion is, and Buddhism does not have a creator god, it is recognised as one of the six major religions in the UK. This gives it an important moderating influence on the overall religious climate of the UK. We strongly encourage all who admire, respect and practice Buddhism to tick the Buddhism box.

I don’t agree with this question being on the Census. It is an invasion of privacy. Should I refuse to answer?

Well, see the previous answer. But if you do refuse to answer, your vote will be used as part of those who indicate they are irreligious. And you will lose this last opportunity to promote Buddhism. This will be a great loss, especially as this is likely to be the last Census and the figures may be used to guide policy for at least ten years.

I wrote in ‘Jedi’ last time- should I do this again?

You are of course at liberty to do this. There are also other unusual religions being publicised.  We understand that many people do this as a form of protest at being asked about their beliefs. However, if you genuinely have no respect for any faith, then we would advise you to tick the ‘No Religion’ box, especially as a ‘Jedi’ or any other unusual new religion would be counted as ‘No Religion’ anyway.

However, we find that many who did tick ‘Jedi’ at the last Census, do in fact practice Buddhist meditation or some other aspect of Buddhism. If this is the case for you, then we would strongly advise you to tick ‘Buddhism’. Remember, it is only the six main faiths that are recognised, and increasing support for Buddhism is a very effective protest against traditional religions and the way they behave.

Someone else in my household may fill in the form for me – how do I make sure my choice of Buddhism is recorded for me?

One person fills in part of the census form which relates to the whole household. However, there is also a part of the form that can be filled in by each member of the household which only refers to your information.  The question on religion is on this part of the form so you can fill in this part yourself or ask the person filling in the rest of the form to fill in your information correctly.

Can I tick a different box to the one I ticked in 2001?

Yes! Whatever answer you gave in 2001, you can still tick ‘Buddhism’ in 2011.

This Article has 32 Comments

  1. David Evans (NBO Associate member) says:

    If ‘other and more precise surveys’ can be devised fair enough, but I don’t really agree with your criticisms. A snapshot of changes in the religious makeup of the country every ten years seems reasonable enough to me, and why should it be objectionable that funding and representation should take some account of the amount of support a religion receives? – presumably public money for faith schools (for instance) has to be based on some measure of demand from particular denominations.
    Of course embracing a particular religious label can mean anything from nominal adherence to fanaticism, but I suppose ministers are entitled to assume that differences in the quality and intensity of conviction cut across religious boundaries in a way that doesn’t distort comparisons unduly.

    D.W. Evans

    • Chrisw says:

      More precise surveys already exist. They are the annual British Social Attitude Surveys and in fact there are rumours that this government may scrap future census exercises because they are very expensive, infrequent, and imprecise, and replace them with BSA surveys.
      The criticism is not so much that representation and funding are allocated on the basis of the census, but that this use of the statistics was not made clear at the time the survey was conducted and that the question does not produce reliable results.

      The weak levels of affiliation that the question measures are obviously much more favourable towards Christian denominations since a huge proportion of those in the UK have some weak Christian affiliation (being christened, attending a Christian school, married in a church, and so on), whilst a very low number have weak affiliations with smaller faiths, since these are mostly relatively new to the UK.

      Faith schools are a whole other issue. However, I suspect that many, like me, see faith schools as a divisive influence and would like to see less of them, rather than poor statistics being used to justify expanding their numbers.


  2. Mr. Naresh Gurung says:

    Thank you very much, for this message. all the Buddhist will sign at this time. and hope will more then we thought.

  3. Laura Millard says:

    I have been a practising Buddhist for about 5 years now and affiliate myself to the Triratna Buddhist Community. I am a Mitra and hope to be ordained one day, although I see no hurry. I truly believe that Buddhism has at last permeated British society to a significant level. For instance, I live in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex and there are at least 5 groups operating in the immediate area. I feel the penetration of Buddhism is becoming more prevalent and whenever I state my religious beliefs, I normally get a response indicating that the recipient of my words also knows somebody who is a Buddhist! This pleases me. The nature of Buddhism renders it subtle and quiet, and many small groups don’t see the need for a specific centre or temple, hence its visibility within our culture. It operates effectively ‘under the radar’. I recently temped in the NHS and out of an office of around 25/30, 5 were Buddhist, yet none of us knew each other’s groups or affiliations – I think this is a good indicator of Buddhist diversity in the West. I welcome this census and have emailed it to everyone I know whom is Buddhist requesting they onforward in the same fashion. Hopefully we will get a true and astonishingly high figure.

  4. Jayarava says:

    I don’t welcome the politicisation of my religion or the census. This jockeying for position, for funding, and for prominence seems to go against the values of Buddhism generally. I don’t think government patronage, a louder voice in schools, and more representation are what we need. I think we want to keep the government well out of it!! I’m sorry to see my sangha involved in this bizarre initiative.

    I hope that everyone fills in the census question according to their conscience, as this right was dearly won in the UK.

  5. Saketa says:

    Jayarava, you have a strange view of the census. You appear to think that it is not political whereas in fact it is an intensely political process since much government policy is based on the census figures.

    Have a look at the ONS website to see how social provision is apportioned according to the census figures. It is also a fact that ethnic minorities (like the many Asian communities who are Buddhist) get under-reported in social surveys like the census and hence miss out on adequate health, education and social support.

    It seems to me that the NBO is doing a good thing in encouraging all who practice Buddhism to say so on the census. Maybe ethnic Buddhist groups will get better support as a result.

    Religion is also very political whether we like it or not. And pretending otherwise is just hiding our heads in the sand and somehow imagining that Buddhists are not part of the UK community.

    Why do you think that encouraging Buddhists to say so on the census goes against their consciences?

    I would like to see more creative campaigns like this from the NBO.

  6. terry brownlee-blake says:

    Am looking for box to tick to say I’m a B uddhist

  7. Chrisw says:

    Thanks for your comment, Laura. You raise another very useful benefit of the NBO campaign, which is to make UK Buddhists more aware of each other, and to start to see ourselves as part of a diverse but friendly national community all working and practising in various ways to cultivate a culture of awakening.

  8. Munisha says:

    Much though I like Jayarava and his work, I so completely disagree with him on the census. I am so looking forward to finding out just how many people are living by Buddhist values in the UK, and having much more of a profile for Buddhism nationally. It is just so interesting watching the way Buddhism is having an effect on education, and how incredibly popular it is in schools. I think it’s quite possible that the next generation of UK Buddhists will largely result from the currently widespread teaching of Buddhism in schools in Religious Education – probably the largest Dharma education project with young people anywhere in the world. And one of the things which will ensure the continuing status of Buddhism in RE is knowing that there are substantial numbers of Buddhists in Britain.

  9. Steve says:

    I also respectfully disagree with Jayaravas stance. I think if Buddhism is to be taken seriously as a force in society, which our society badly needs, it needs to get somewhat political, as long as it tries to maintain purity of motive and doesn’t compromise.

  10. Declaring the badge of our Buddhist philosphical/religious/spiritual affiliation seems less important than discreetly living the tenets of the four noble truths, the eightfold path, etc, and yet…I have found that (gently) waving the Buddhist flag can provide someone’s first stepping stone across the river. Jayarava, don’t be embarrassed about what you believe: you may just be throwing someone a raft…

  11. Freeman says:

    Firstly, I should make it clear that I am a humanist browsing the internet to see what people of differing beliefs make of the 2011 Census religion question.

    I respect whatever decisions any of you may make, however, I believe the only way to ensure an equitable society for all beliefs is to tick “No religion”. In my opinion, a tick against a minority group will have little impact when countered against the total Christian result. The “No religion” percentage needs to be as large as possible to ensure politicians stop granting special privileges to Christian organisations. Take a look at the URL I’ve listed here and please tick, “No religion” on March 27th. Best Wishes, Dave

    • Chrisw says:

      What you propose is ‘tactical voting’ with the aim of countering the privileged position of Christianity. Given that the census will include this question, (and I wish it was not included) should we not simply be straightforward about the values that guide our lives? If we follow Buddhist values, we should tick the box for Buddhism; if we follow no religion in any significant way, we should tick the ‘no religion’ box. Simple…

      all the best, Chris

  12. Jon Underwood says:

    Will be representing the Buddhists! Thanks to the NBO for campaigning on this issue. Thanks also for working to get Buddhism included as a category (dating back to the Paul Seto days I believe).


  13. www.facebook.com/~

    Its time to tell the Government to


    It is not likely that this question will remain optional: the more the state gets to know, the more it appears to assume a divine right to know. Today’s invasion of privacy will be will be tomorrow’s loss of liberty.

    The ‘Mind Your Own’ Campaign wants those who profess a faith adherence as well as non-religious people to tick ‘Other’ in the 2011 Census and then insert ‘Mind Your Own’. By doing this, we we make a legitimate and legal protest aganst the state’s increasingly intrusive data collection.

  14. Peter Goble says:

    I’m personally in agreement with Jayarava who makes his points trenchantly and clearly. I’m not clear about how the NBO decided to launch this campaign, on whose warrants of authority. Just as I am in the dark about what warrants of authority the Government claims in requiring me to declare my sexual orientation or ethnicity, on pains of a fine or imprisonment. I am inclined to refuse to comply with the census on libertarian grounds. Two members of ‘my’ household have already told me that they are not willing that I disclose any information about them to the census, and I respect their rights in the matter.

    I don’t agree with this campaign, it marks a step too far along the road to proselytising and politicking, and I resent the assertion that “if we follow Buddhist values we should tick the box for Buddhism”. Since when did the NBO or its functionaries have the authority to tell us what we “should” do? Enough is enough!

  15. Peter Goble says:

    Further to my comment again, and my libertarian concerns, this may be of interest to members www.dailymail.co.uk/~

  16. Chrisw says:

    The ‘tick the box campaign’ was selected from a list of projects at the 2010 AGM as the favourite choice of those present.

    I agree that there is a case to make against some of the census questions on libertarian, or at least privacy, grounds. I personally wish that the religious question was not on the census. However, since it is on the census I think it is right to make everyone aware of how it was used (arguably, abused) last time around and hence why numbers matter.

    But obviously what we put on the census is a personal issue that we all must decide for ourselves.

    Maybe it is a good thing that this is the last census…

  17. Graham says:

    “Just as I am in the dark about what warrants of authority the Government claims in requiring me to declare my sexual orientation or ethnicity, on pains of a fine or imprisonment. I am inclined to refuse to comply with the census on libertarian grounds. “

    Peter could not have put it more clearly for me. I am very concerned about increasing invasion of privacy. I am deeply suspicious of the motives for such a census and even more so, the uses to which the data will be put. No doubt there will be ever more financial and insurance ‘products’ created from it. As a Buddhist I really don’t want to facilitate the grip of marketing, financial and insurance organisations on society and the way we conduct our lives.They can keep their big purple bus (I know a good place to put it!), I don’t like the shape you continue to have in mind for the future…

  18. Chrisw says:

    Just a factual correction – there is no question on sexual orientation on this census.

  19. Chrisw says:

    An example of how the last census figures were used:

    Between 2004-2008, there was a fund called the faith communities capacity building fund. Bids were invited and grants subsequently given to faith organisations. At the time, I sent a letter to the grant authority asking why there seemed to be so few grants to Buddhist inspired or based groups. One of the reasons given was that the grants had been allocated in proportion to the relative size of faiths on the census. See this link for the list of beneficiaries:


    I personally do not see the main motive for the tick the box campaign to be gaining more funds for Buddhist enterprises, although that would be a helpful outcome. I see it as simply being honest about what values we follow, and confident in expressing this.

    Graham, the detailed census data (as in what each household submitted) is not shared with commercial organisations – and not made publicly available in detailed form for 100 years. However, aggregated figures are published. I would be one of the first to complain to MPs and others if personal data from the census was found to be used in the way you fear.

    If you want to see how the data is used go to the ONS website:


    Bear in mind that a census has regularly taken place in the UK for over 200 years, but that this current one – 2011 – is almost certainly the last

  20. […] I declared myself a practising Theravadan Buddhist on the last census and will do so on this one too. (I’ve been practising for quite a long […]

  21. Robert J Brown says:

    Hi – I am actually refusing to complete the Census 2011 as they are not allowing me to fully acknowledge myself on the Census.

    As an openly gay man for as long as I can remember, I started an LGBT group when I was 15 years old in Scotland. I started practicing the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin when I was 19 years old and 21 years later I continue to do so.

    However, having fully worked and paid taxes – contributing to society since I was 17 years old, I am not being counted in the Census . . . this is WRONG.

    If we are asking all those who are Buddhists or who believe in Buddhism to tick that box for funding opportunities, so we should be allowed to put down that we are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and / or transgender for the same reasons – however, we are not given that opportunity.

  22. Robert J Brown says:

    Laura in Leigh-on-Sea . . .

    Just to say hi . . . my partner and I are in Southend East and there are 3 SGI-UK ‘Districts’ here covering Southend on Sea:

    Southend West – to Basildon
    Southend Central
    Southend East – to Shoeburyness

    This is due to the fact that the previous ‘district’ Basildon and Southend grew so we had to split. We have our meetings in our homes and as such, try and keep each district to around 20/25 people so that when we chant in from of our Gohonozn we can all see clearly and all able to fully participate in our main monthly discussion meeting.

    cheers – Robert

  23. Munisha says:

    There is no question about sexual orientation on the Census, but some LGBT people are very angry about this as they want the chance to show just how many LGBT people there are in Britain today. They have been campaigning for people to enter their sexual orientation in the *Other* box under the Religion question! You must have heard of Lesbianity…

  24. […] details of this campaign can be found at: www.nbo.org/~ What’s it all about? The next census, in March 2011, will include a voluntary question about […]

  25. JaciS says:

    Hi, just wanted to point out that there is a wider concern about the census among peace activists and generally concerned citizens who are campaigning for a boycott of the census given that it is again being undertaken by Lockheed Martin. LM is an american arms company, the largest military contractor and exporter of arms… A concern I’m sure to many Buddhsits. More info available at: censusalert.org/~

    As a lesbian buddhist I’m very happy to stand up and be counted and would tick both boxes on a census form if I didn’t feel boycotting the whole the right thing for me to do.

  26. jaya graves says:

    While i’m happy to ‘tick the box’ for Buddhism, I’d like to know what position the NBO would have on the fact that this census has been contracted out to Lockheed, the American arms company. if this is just about opportunism and a funding opportunity, where’s Buddhism? At the last Buddhist convention in Manchester a NBO representative spoke about tricky issue that Buddhists may be asked to give a view – like organ donation etc. Well here’s a tricky situation we should have considered right at the start of the ‘tick the box’ campaign. Going public is about more than expediency.The Buddha never shied away from it.

    jaya graves

    • Chrisw says:

      The NBO is a loose network of Buddhists – it does not generate policy or positions on issues – although it does stimulate debate and publicise these and any consensus that arises. So individual Buddhists who happen to be NBO members will have their own views on the Lockheed question. I should say that concern over the organisation contracted to process the census forms was not raised at the time when NBO members were giving their support for the ‘tick the box’ campaign.

      My personal view is that whilst it is unfortunate that Lockheed has been chosen for this role, and I wish that a more ethical company had been selected, boycotting the Census is not helpful. As Peace News says:

      “A principled stance by you to boycott the census will not hurt [Lockheed], could provide the British Government with a £1,000 fine of your money and will make life harder for local authorities. Don’t let them make a profit from your census return but do help to provide the data your council needs for its Government grants. If you don’t send in your form, Lockheed Martin will still get its money and just make a higher profit for less work.”

      Also see: www.ekklesia.co.uk/~

  27. jaya graves says:

    I have not anywhere suggested a boycott of the census. That would land anyone who did with a fine and is not particularly productive. (I don’t know whether boycotts are ‘principled’ or not. I do know that they may soothe the conscience of a few who boycott but end up hurting people at the receiving end of things.)

    My concern is for an aware engagement. Part of this is to raise the issue – i don’t see it mentioned anywhere here. The fact that Lockheed has been contracted to undertake this census, in my view (and others) poses a tricky question. Individual Buddhists may have their own views on the issue – as I have and since the NBO, in your words Chris aims to, stimulate debate, that is what i aim to do. What Peace News says may not suit everyone’s perception. I think our councils should have been questioning the appointment as well. Because money is involved, we are not absolved from other responsibilities

  28. […] The National Buddhist Organisation, meanwhile, was encouraging people to “Tick the Box for Buddhism”. […]

  29. Ganesh kumar says:

    very good for your country
    thanks . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .

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